Darrent Williams’ murder showed the power of Denver’s street gangs

So much for the idea that Denver is a city apart.

Denver’s reputation for being a high, clean city — something different from other American big cities that are rife with organized crime and machine politics — has been battered over the past three years.

It was New Year’s Day, 2007, when Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot to death while riding in a limousine in downtown Denver.

At the time, it looked as though something aberrant had occurred. It seemed possible that the killing was an isolated, bizarre act by a nutcase gang-banger with a grudge.

It could have happened almost anywhere, might even have been expected in places like Chicago or Los Angeles.

A year passed in Denver, no arrest.

A second year passed, no arrest.

More than three years after a bullet struck Williams in the neck, Denver prosecutors took the case against gang-banger Willie Clark to trial.

Last Friday, a jury returned with a guilty verdict against Clark. But the trial demonstrated clearly that in terms of sheer power, Denver’s finest had nothing on Denver’s worst.

Prosecutors handed get-out-of-prison deals to witnesses like medical-marijuana dealers dropping samples in Aspen. They couldn’t buy credibility for law enforcement.

It very quickly became clear that witnesses were more fearful, perhaps rightfully so, of the gangs than anything prosecutors might be able to offer.

Witnesses who told police they never saw Clark on the night of the slaying, developed sudden-recollection syndrome and offered the jury an alibi for Clark.

Even Clark cited fears of Denver gangs, telling the jury through his attorney that he wouldn’t testify for fear he would be turned into “swiss cheese.”

Clark’s lawyer, Abraham Hutt, had enough going for him to tell the jury his client wasn’t even there, despite plenty of eyewitnesses who did place him at the Safari Club that night, the place where the dispute began. One of those witnesses was Bronco wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil gave prosecutors enough to tear down the doubt-inducing testimony of one witness, with a tape recording.

Some witnesses even claimed that Clark had confessed to the killing, or in the street argot, put Williams “to sleep.”

The case against Willie Clark should have been a slam dunk, a 10-minute deliberation. The defense should have been made to look like Tom Brady throwing desperately in Champ Bailey’s direction.

Instead, what we saw for the last few weeks in the Denver courthouse was sheer fecklessness on the part of a city police and prosecutors that, after two years of investigating one of the city’s most popular and best-known ahtletes, couldn’t close the case without help from federal investigators working a case that had no obvious connection to the killing.

Prosecutors couldn’t bring to bear outrage against the murder of Darrent Williams to inspire witnesses to offer credible testimony. Instead, law enforcement was reduced to cutting deals with career criminals, thugs, liars and thieves.

That’s not exactly unusual for prosecutors who have to deal with organized-crime figures, but that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? These things aren’t supposed to happen in Denver, in Colorado.

In order for prosecutors to deal with a violent, infamous crime, they have to make deals.

It’s now clear that organized crime holds the upper hand in Denver, no matter what else we’re told.

Gangs roam the 16th Street Mall, committing race-related attacks. They “own” adjacent blocks and Denver is unwilling or incapable of dealing with the threats they pose.

Clark’s conviction will be painted as a victory for law enforcement, which it is. But one has to wonder whether the result would have been the same had the victim been a guy from Pueblo or Clifton without a band of famous witnesses.

When Clark’s attorney, Hutt, told the jury that “The people of Denver deserve better and so does Darrent Williams,” he was right on at least that count. Dead right.


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